Kawhi Leonard, Kemba Walker
ESNY Graphic, AP Photo

With Kevin Durant’s injury, the New York Knicks must make a slight pivot to look at other potential max players in free agency.

Danny Small

Things move fast in the NBA. One minute, Kevin Durant was looking like the savior the Golden State Warriors needed in the NBA Finals. The next, Bob Myers is fighting through tears to announce that Durant had suffered an Achilles injury.

Obviously, Durant is the person who is most affected by his injury. But this will send shockwaves throughout the entire NBA. More specifically, the New York Knicks will have to alter their summer plans after loading up to make a push for Durant.

The Knicks could become aggressive on the trade market for Anthony Davis. But there are certain complications that come with that move. Moreover, New York could follow the patient approach by developing the young core and keeping cap flexibility.

However, the Knicks have been preparing for this summer for the better part of two years. They will still look to engage free agents on June 30 and if all goes well, they could still field a championship contender next season.

That being said, the pool of free agents who are worthy of signing a max contract is dwindling. It’s always safe to expect the unexpected in NBA free agency, but things don’t look great for the Knicks if you’re reading the tea leaves to figure out where they stand.

Kawhi Leonard

Kawhi Leonard is the only other free agent on the market that the Knicks might have considered over Durant. He’s younger by three years and absolutely dominating the 2019 NBA Playoffs. He is on the verge of an improbable championship run in his first year with the Toronto Raptors.

It’s almost impossible to predict how the Finals will affect Leonard’s decision this summer. The notoriously tight-lipped Leonard maintains that he’s not thinking ahead to free agency yet.

“You know what you want,” Leonard told Rachel Nichols of ESPN. “But I’m not thinking, like — just because of this and this I’m gonna re-sign. I’m not even thinking about signing or what team I’m gonna go to, free agency, none of that. I’m just focused on what’s in front of me right now. And then, you know, once it’s over then I’ll — revisit everything.”

Prior to discussing his free agency plans, Leonard spoke with Nichols about how important “load management” was for him this season. That poses a problem for the Knicks for a couple of reasons. For one, he knows that the Raptors have a system in place that will keep him fresh until the NBA Finals.

Furthermore, even with Leonard and a second star on the roster, it’s unlikely that the Knicks will have a deep enough roster to comfortably allow Leonard to sit out 20 games each season. If the Knicks were to unload the war chest of assets for Anthony Davis, Leonard’s “load management” absences would be magnified even further.

The Knicks still have a chance to sign Leonard. In fact, they are confident they’ll get a meeting with the silent assassin. However, there has been a groundswell of speculation that Leonard will ultimately decide between Toronto and the Los Angeles Clippers this summer. This was similar to the general feeling that Durant to the Knicks was a significant possibility.

Unfortunately, Knicks fans shouldn’t get too excited about the potential of Leonard taking up residence in Madison Square Garden.

Jimmy Butler

Jimmy Butler‘s future might be the most difficult to forecast at this point. He’s been linked to just about every corner of the NBA dating back to his odd marriage with the Minnesota Timberwolves.

The Philadelphia 76ers, his most recent team, still would seem like a serious possibility to re-sign the All-Star. The Los Angeles Lakers, Brooklyn Nets, Knicks, Clippers, and a few mystery teams will likely give Butler a look as well.

However, given what we know about why Butler forced his way off the Timberwolves and Chicago Bulls, there’s only one thing on his mind—winning. It’s fair to assume that another star on the roster will be a requirement to sign Butler.

That would mean that the best way for the Knicks to land Butler would be by bringing him on with Kyrie Irving as well. In July of 2018, Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times reported that the two were trying to figure out a way to play together. Perhaps they still share some of those same feelings and want to take their talents to the Garden.

Durant-Irving was the original dream offseason for many Knicks fans. Butler-Irving is not quite as exciting, but it would be a palatable offseason nonetheless.

New York Knicks

Kyrie Irving

It’s hard to believe that anyone knows what Irving plans to do this summer. The All-Star point guard might not even have any idea where he’s going yet. First, he pledged his allegiance to the Boston Celtics. But after a disappointing season, all signs point to Irving exploring the trade market.

Recently, Ian Begley of SNY reported that Irving is still considering the Knicks. But teams around the league believe Irving is most likely to end up in Brooklyn.

Honestly, Irving’s tea leaves are almost impossible to read. Durant’s injury could affect his future more than any other free agent on the market.

Klay Thompson

Sure, the Knicks would love to scoop up possibly the second greatest shooter in the history of the NBA. Klay Thompson is often overlooked because he plays alongside the greatest shooter in the history of the game. However, his performance down the stretch in Game 5 reminded everyone why he’s one of the best wings in the league.

That being said, Knicks fans shouldn’t get their hopes up about ever seeing Thompson in a Knicks uniform. Durant’s injury and precarious future will add a new dynamic to Thompson’s free agency, but it’s hard to see Golden State letting him walk.

If the Warriors don’t offer Thompson a max deal, he should explore his options in free agency. But again, if the Warriors don’t back up the Brinks truck for Thompson I’ll be shocked.

Kemba Walker

Sidenote: It’s a big year for free agents whose first names start with the letter “K.”

Kemba Walker returning home to play for the Knicks would be a tremendous story. He was a dominant high school player at Rice in New York City and already has an affinity for the big moment in the Garden from his days with UCONN.

Although it would be a feel-good story, Walker to the Knicks doesn’t look likely. Last week, Shams Charania of The Athletic reported that Walker and the Charlotte Hornets “have each other as top priorities,” this offseason. The Hornets can offer Walker a supermax contract worth $221 million over five years. By comparison, the Knicks would only be able to offer $141 million over four years.

Tobias Harris

Stay with me here. There hasn’t been much chatter about Tobias Harris to the Knicks. There has been some speculation that he’d like to go to the Nets and Brooklyn has long shown an interest in the stretch-four.

It’s hard to envision the Knicks doling out a max contract to the Long Island native without someone like Leonard, Butler, or Irving already inked. The Knicks will almost certainly punt on free agency and maintain future cap flexibility as opposed to handing out an Amar’e Stoudemire-like deal to Harris.

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